Parrot Trivia: Background information when reading The Sea Gate

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The Sea Gate

by Jane Johnson

The Sea Gate by Jane Johnson X
The Sea Gate by Jane Johnson
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    Jan 2021, 416 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
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Parrot Trivia

This article relates to The Sea Gate

Print Review

African Grey ParrotOne of the characters in Jane Johnson's novel, The Sea Gate, is a foul-mouthed, multilingual African grey parrot (Psittacus Erithacus). Parrots are members of the Psittacidae family, which is comprised of over 300 species including lovebirds, cockatoos, macaws and budgerigars (aka "budgies"). While most people are broadly familiar with parrots, there's a lot of interesting trivia and history that isn't common knowledge.

  • The oldest parrot fossil on record is from the Eocene Epoch, about 50 million years ago, and was discovered in what is now Denmark.
  • Historical records indicate that parrots have been valued as pets going back thousands of years in Asia, Europe and South America.
  • Alexander the Great brought pet parakeets to Greece in 327 BCE from the region that is now India; the Alexandrine parakeet is named after him.
  • The Romans employed full-time parrot teachers (in 77 CE, Pliny the Elder recommended hitting the birds over the head with a steel pipe to help them learn faster!).
  • African greys are considered one of the smartest bird species on Earth, with an intelligence level equal to that of a five-year-old child and the emotional intelligence of a three-year-old. Some have demonstrated a 1,000+-word vocabulary and seem to grasp concepts such as reciprocity and sharing.
  • Henry VIII adopted an African grey that lived with him at Hampton Court, and Queen Victoria had one as well. This parrot was called Coco, and members of the royal family taught it to sing "God Save the Queen." Other parrot owners from history include Marie Antoinette, Martha Washington and Teddy Roosevelt. Andrew Jackson had a parrot he taught to curse in both English and Spanish; it attended Jackson's funeral and disrupted the service with a loud string of profanity.
  • We commonly associate parrots with pirates thanks to Robert Louis Stevenson's 1883 novel Treasure Island. In it, Captain Long John Silver has a parrot named Captain Flint, which is often perched on his shoulder.
  • Ownership of parrots as pets decreased in the early 20th century due to an outbreak of an avian disease known as psittacosis, or "parrot fever," but saw a resurgence in the 1970s thanks in part to the TV show Baretta, which featured a cockatoo named Fred.
  • Surprisingly little is known about parrots in the wild. They're prey birds, so they're relatively skittish and prefer hanging out in the upper canopy of trees, making them hard to track. It's believed that their ability to mimic sounds evolved as a survival technique intended to cause predators to mistake them for other animals.
  • The birds are highly social and most live in flocks of 20 to 30 birds. A flock of parrots is called a "pandemonium."
  • Parrots are in decline in the wild due to loss of habitat and poaching — almost half of all species are currently classified as endangered. The species with the worst threat of extinction is the kakapo, a large, flightless nocturnal bird native to just four small islands off New Zealand. As of 2020 there were just 209 kakapo.
  • Parrots have a very long lifespan, at least in captivity. A green-winged macaw named Poncho is officially the world's oldest bird, documented at 92 years old in 2018. She was owned by Birds and Animals Unlimited, a company that provides animal actors to Universal Studios. Her last role was in the 2000 film 102 Dalmatians, after which she retired to an exotic pet breeder's farm in Shrewsbury, England. Unofficially, there is a blue-and-gold macaw named Charlie who is thought to be 114 years old (also as of 2018), but there's no documentation of her true age. It's rumored she was formerly owned by Winston Churchill, who supposedly taught her a repertoire of curse words. She also squawks at pictures of Nazis, thereby adding fuel to this speculation.

African grey parrot

Filed under Nature and the Environment

Article by Kim Kovacs

This article relates to The Sea Gate. It first ran in the January 20, 2021 issue of BookBrowse Recommends.

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